An ecumenical service was held Oct. 29 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, with worship led by (from left): Shirley Karstad, Deacon Marie-Louise Ternier; Dr. Del Haug, Carmen Kampman, Rev. Lindsay Mohn, Bishop Sidney Haugen, Archbishop Donald Bolen, and Rev. Kevin McGee. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — Christians in Saskatoon gathered Oct. 29 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with an ecumenical worship service, repenting for the division and violence of the past, and pledging to move forward together as followers of Jesus Christ.
Five hundred years ago, on Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses calling for reform of church practices to the Archbishop of Mainz. The date is considered to be the start of the Reformation, with the movement spreading across Europe throughout the 16th century.
Christians across the world have been marking the 500th anniversary together — not as a celebration of division, but as a moment of healing.
Rev. Kevin McGee, administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, welcomed hundreds to the Sunday afternoon worship at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, noting how, for the past 50 years, Christians have been on a journey “from conflict to communion,” recognizing that what unites Christians is far greater than what divides us.
“We come with different thoughts and feelings of thanksgiving and lament, joy and repentance, joy in the Gospel and sorrow for division,” McGee said. “We gather to commemorate in remembrance, in thanksgiving and confession, and in common witness and commitment.”
A number of Christian denominations participated in the Reformation 500 event, with a joint sermon given by Bishop Sid Haugen of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina.
“The message is really the service itself,” said Haugen: “that we are here to give thanks for the gifts of the Reformation, but also to repent for the ways that we have sinned against each other.”
Haugen recalled two words from John 11:37, when, upon learning that his friend Lazarus had died, “Jesus wept.” It was a text that came to Haugen when he taught the history of Christianity. “We have been the cause, I think, of Jesus weeping for his children.”
Gathered in the upper room, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” added Haugen, explaining that the “you” in this verse is not singular, but plural. Christ is urging his followers in unity to “abide in me, and abide with each other, and walk together and pray for each other.”
The possibility of “re-reading the Reformation” emerges after years of dialogue among Christians, said Bolen, reflecting on Martin Luther’s desire to initiate a discussion about things in the church that needed to change. “Above all we discovered that Martin Luther in his own life heard the call of the Gospel and that it transformed him.”
After 50 years of dialogue, Christians are now praying together, serving and witnessing together, Bolen said. He pointed to the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by Lutherans and Catholics as an important fruit of this dialogue.
The archbishop quoted Article 15 of the document: “Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”
The World Methodist Council signed on to the declaration in 2006, and this past summer Reformed Churches from throughout the world decided they, too, wanted to sign it, Bolen said.
The Saskatoon worship service included reflections on healing, reconciliation, dialogue, and unity, read by representatives of different Christian communities.
Rev. Carmen Kampan, executive director for advancement at Horizon College and a candidate for ordination in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), quoted from the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue document From Conflict to Communion: “When divided Christians remember the events that led to the particular formation of their churches, they do not wish to do so without their fellow Christians. In remembering with each other the beginning of the Reformation, they are taking their baptism seriously.”
Dr. Del Haug read from the Mennonite-Catholic dialogue, Called Together to be Peacemakers: “Christians can take responsibility for the past. They can name the errors in their history, repent of them, and work to correct them.”
Rev. Lindsay Mohn of the United Church also quoted a dialogue document that reflected on the importance of sharing a picture of the past that is historically accurate: “A healing of memories involves the openness to move beyond the isolation of the past and to consider concrete steps toward new relations. Together, these factors can contribute to reconciliation between divided Christians.”
Deacon Marie-Louise Ternier, who is preparing for ordination in the Anglican communion, read from a document reflecting on how, in addition to the joy and gratitude of the Reformation 500 commemoration, there must be room to experience pain over failures and sins. “In the 16th century, Christians on all sides frequently not only misunderstood but also exaggerated and caricatured their opponents in order to make them look ridiculous. They repeatedly violated the eighth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one’s neighbour.”
During the commemoration, the assembly recited the Apostle’s Creed, prayed the Lord’s Prayer — each in their own language — and exchanged a sign of peace. Intercessory prayers and hymns were also part of the service, with music provided by a combined choir and a brass quartet.
Five representatives of Christian communities each read a commitment for deepening unity, taken from dialogue documents, before lighting a candle from the paschal candle.
Gerri Madill, chair of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, read from dialogue documents urging commitment to the ecumenical principle “that we should do all things together excepting only those things that deep differences compel us to do separately.”
Rev. Harley Johnson, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, read from a from a Reformed Christian-Roman Catholic document calling for letting go of “ill-conceived notions” about other Christians and entering into a process of self-giving. “In light of the Paschal Mystery, dialogue purifies its participants so that each can approach the other with the freedom that comes from taking on the mind of Christ.”
Rev. Sandra Beardsall of St. Andrew’s College read from an Anglican-Catholic dialogue document about finding ways to seek visible unity: “We encourage our local churches to regularly make a public profession of faith together, perhaps by renewing baptismal promises at Pentecost each year. We encourage more frequent joint worship, including celebrations of faith, pilgrimages, processions of witness and shared public liturgies on significant occasions.”
Rev. Munye Mtata, a Lutheran pastor from Zimbabwe, read from the Amsterdam Declaration of 2000: “We encourage our churches to pray and work for unity in truth among all true believers in Jesus and to co-operate as fully as possible in evangelism with other brothers and sisters in Christ so that the whole church may take the whole Gospel to the whole world.”
Celeste Woloschuk, co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, called for a commitment to common witness and service: “Common witness means standing together and sharing together in witness to our common faith. True common witness is not engaged in for any narrow, strategic denominational benefit of a particular community. Rather, it is concerned solely with the glory of God, the good of the whole church, and the good of humankind.”